Intellectual Property in a Post-Pandemic Future Part I – The World Has Gotten More IP Intensive

The coronavirus pandemic surprised the world a few years ago and forced people to adapt to exceptional circumstances. At the start of this article series, the return to the “new normal” has already been canceled once due to the omicron variant, and the old adage about the certainty of change seems very concrete.

Much has happened in the area of ​​intellectual property assets during the pandemic as well. I will discuss these, perhaps to some extent surprising, changes in the next series of articles, part one of which is about intellectual property protection activity and its effects in the coronavirus era. In the second part, I will discuss the corporate IP cultures that are now seen as an increasingly important part of corporate IP strategies. The third and final section of the series is devoted to intellectual property issues relating to sustainable development. All the themes mentioned show that even in the field of intellectual property rights, only change is permanent and success in a changing field of intellectual property requires companies to adapt a considerably more active and conscious mindset.

Part I – The World Has Become More IP Intensive

In terms of intellectual property rights, one of the most obvious surprises of the coronavirus era has been the fact that trademarks and patents have been filed in an extremely active manner, despite the uncertainties created by the pandemic. Multiple national and international registration authorities have even reported a record number of applications filed. For example, in 2020, the highest number of trademark and patent applications were filed with the Finnish Patent and Registration Office in five years, and the increase in the number of trademark applications from the The EU, which has lasted for several years, has not reversed. following the pandemic.

High intellectual property protection activity can be seen as part of a larger international trend, as WIPO reports also show that trademark and patent applications were clearly more filed around the world during the pandemic than in previous years. In Finland, the rush to protect intellectual property assets showed no signs of leveling off until the second half of 2021, while at EU level and globally, the upward trend only appears to be continue.

The trend has been surprising to say the least, so where did all of this come from?

Although the financial support measures were considerable during the pandemic, the most logical explanation for the high number of IP claims may be the fact that dealing with the pandemic simply required companies to innovate: the ways of working and to communicate have changed – perhaps permanently – not to mention unprecedented amounts of investment in R&D to beat the pandemic. In view of these questions, it makes sense that new innovations have followed as well, and especially digital and pharmaceutical products as well as business services have been well presented in the statistics of IP applications.

Another remarkable fact shown by the statistics is the IP activity of the Chinese. This is reflected not only in the number of applications filed with the Chinese registration authority, but also in the applications filed by Chinese companies with the registration authorities of other countries. In terms of statistics, China dominates most of the top positions, with the United States in second and Germany in third. Certainly, this can be partly explained by the strengthening of the Chinese economy, but despite this, the IP activity of Chinese companies is a factor which now affects the activities of many domestic companies and those operating in international markets.

Intellectual property activity has also been high outside the realm of intellectual property rights registered during the pandemic.

The importance of data and its IP protection has been discussed for years, which is why issues regarding the protection of trade secrets, and trade secrets in general, have gained critical importance during the pandemic. In Finland, things have picked up speed in part thanks to our new trade secret law, which came into effect on August 15, 2018 (on which my colleague Tom Vapaavuori has written an excellent series of articles online).

For us lawyers, the increased role of trade secrets has translated into an increasing demand for trade secret training, and various organizations have launched special programs to protect trade secrets. In addition, the transfers of high-level experts and entire teams of experts from one competitor to another, of which there were perhaps more examples during the pandemic than normal, raised questions from the public. two sides of the table – i.e. not only from the point of view of protecting the trade secrets of the former employer but also from the side of the new employer and from the point of view of ensuring freedom of action and protect existing research and development from alleged data contamination.

Another issue raised by the increase in intellectual property activity is the perhaps somewhat comical concern of trademark exhaustion.

According to a study, more than 75% of the 20,000 most common English words correspond to an EU registered trademark and the remaining words are linked to negative meanings. Regarding the Finnish language, from what I understand, similar studies have not been carried out, but it is clear that Finnish companies operating internationally should pay even more attention to third-party brands when designing new product launches and market conquests. Failure to do so may result in legal action or a name change, which can be seen as a sign of business problems.

The many concerns caused by the high number of trademark registrations can, of course, be avoided in a number of ways. As far as Finland is concerned, some examples are the definitions of goods and services which need to be much more precise than before, as well as the introduction of the administrative revocation of trademarks and, overall, the fact that the registration authority Finland carries out an ex officio examination of whether a registered trademark should be confused with previously registered trademarks. Of course, the latter provision only protects the Finnish trademark register against ‘filling’ and in fact creates a reason why many Finnish companies do not apply for Finnish national trademarks: instead, the protection of trademarks covering Finland may also be obtained by applying for an EU Trademark from EUIPO, when earlier trademark registrations are not automatically considered as obstacles to a new application.

In addition to exploiting said loopholes, succeeding in a more intellectual property-intensive world also requires companies to control intellectual property rights even more effectively (for example, to prevent counterfeit trademarks from being registered as such trademarks. of the EU) and more generally, that they value their owning intellectual property assets and use them efficiently. The statistics discussed above indicate that many companies have used the pandemic to create new innovations and increase the weight of their own intellectual property portfolios. So, if such changes had not been made in your business, would it be the right time for you to prepare your intellectual property as well?

The references

PRH 17.1.2021: Tilastot tavaramerkeistä ja patenteista: Koronavuonna hakemuksia eniten viiteen vuoteen (https://www.prh.fi/fi/uutislistaus/2021/P_22589.html)

EUIPO 2021: EUIPO Statistics for European Union Trade Marks 1996-01 to 2021-10 Evolution (https://euipo.europa.eu/tunnel-web/secure/webdav/guest/document_library/contentPdfs/about_euipo/the_office/statistics-of -european-union-trade-marks_en.pdf)

WIPO 8.11.2021: Global Intellectual Property Indicators Report: Global Trademark Filing Skyrockets in 2020 Despite Global Pandemic (https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2021/ article_0011.html)

PRH 2021: Tilastot kansallisista tavaramerkkihakemuksista ja Suomeen kohdistetuista kansainvälisistä rekisteröinneistä (https://www.prh.fi/fi/tavaramerkit/yleista_tavaramerkekiista/tilastoja/kemainseterkkiista)

WIPO 2.3.2021: Innovation perseveres: international patent filings through WIPO continued to grow in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2021 /article_0002.html)

WIPO 2021: Global Intellectual Property Indicators 2021 (https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_941_2021.pdf)

Tom Vapaavuori 2021: Näkemyksiä liikesalaisuuslaista I-VIII (https://www.twobirds.com/fi/news/articles/2019/finland/nakemyksia-liikesalaisuuslaista-viii)

Anu Leena Koskinen: Entisillä työntekijöillä oli tuhansia Nokian Renkaiden Tiedostoja – hovioikeus lievensi hieman tuomioita Suomen suurimmassa yrityssalaisuusjutussa, Yle Uutiset 19.6.

James Nurton: Is Europe short of brands? Professor Beebe on EU Trademark Exhaustion, IP WatchDog 19.11.2021 (https://www.ipwatchdog.com/2021/11/19/is-europe-running-out-of-trademarks-professor -beebe-talks-eu- brand-brand-exhaustion / id = 140170 /)

Saara Koho: Ei nimi yhtiötä pahenna, Talouselämä 43/2021.


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